Read Chapter IV. of Mercy Philbrick's Choice, free online book, by Helen Hunt Jackson, on

Mercy said nothing to her mother of Mrs. White’s rudeness.  She merely mentioned the fact of her having met Mr. White near the house, and having gone with him, at his request, to speak to his mother.

“What’s she like, Mercy?” asked Mrs. Carr, eagerly.  “Is she goin’ to be company for me?”

“I could not tell, mother,” replied Mercy, indifferently; “for it was just their tea-hour, and I did not stay a minute,-only just to say, How d’ye do, and Good-evening.  But Mr. White says she is very lonely; people don’t go to see her much:  so I should think she would be very glad of somebody her own age in the house, to come and sit with her.  She looks very ill, poor soul.  She hasn’t been out of her bed, except when she was lifted, for eight years.”

“Dear me! dear me!” exclaimed Mrs. Carr.  “Oh, I hope I’ll never be that way.  What’u’d you ever do child, if I’d get to be like that?”

“No danger, mother dear, of your ever being like Mrs. White,” said Mercy, with an incautious emphasis, which, however, escaped Mrs. Carr’s recognition.

“Why, how can you be so sure I mightn’t ever get into jest so bad a way, child?  There’s none of us can say what diseases we’re likely to hev or not to hev.  Now there’s never been a case o’ lung trouble in our family afore mine, not ’s fur back ’s anybody kin trace it out; ‘n’ there’s been two cancers to my own knowledge; ‘n’ I allus hed a most awful dread o’ gettin’ a cancer.  There ain’t no death like thet.  There wuz my mother’s half-sister, Keziah,-she that married Elder Swift for her second husband.  She died o’ cancer; an’ her oldest boy by her first husband he hed it in his face awful.  But he held on ter life ’s ef he couldn’t say die, nohow; and I tell yer, Mercy, it wuz a sight nobody’d ever forget, to see him goin’ round the street with one side o’ his face all bound up, and his well eye a rolling round, a-doin’ the work o’ two.  He got so he couldn’t see at all out o’ either eye afore he died, ‘n’ you could hear his screeches way to our house.  There wouldn’t no laudalum stop the pain a mite.”

“Oh, mother! don’t! don’t!” exclaimed Mercy.  “It is too dreadful to talk about.  I can’t bear to think that any human being has ever suffered so.  Please don’t ever speak of cancers again.”

Mrs. Carr looked puzzled and a little vexed, as she answered, “Well, I reckon they’ve got to be talked about a good deal, fust and last, ’s long ’s there’s so many dies on ’em.  But I don’t know ’s you ‘n’ I’ve got any call to dwell on ’em much.  You’ve got dreadful quick feelin’s, Mercy, ain’t you?  You allus was orful feelin’ for everybody when you wuz little, ‘n’ I don’t see ’s you’ve outgrowed it a bit.  But I expect it’s thet makes you sech friends with folks, an’ makes you such a good gal to your poor old mother.  Kiss me, child,” and Mrs. Carr lifted up her face to be kissed, as a child lifts up its face to its mother.  She did this many times a day; and, whenever Mercy bent down to kiss her, she put her hands on the old woman’s shoulders, and said, “Dear little mother!” in a tone which made her mother’s heart warm with happiness.

It is a very beautiful thing to see just this sort of relation between an aged parent and a child, the exact reversal of the bond, and the bond so absolutely fulfilled.  It seems to give a new and deeper sense to the word “filial,” and a new and deeper significance to the joy of motherhood or fatherhood.  Alas, that so few sons and daughters are capable of it! so few helpless old people know the blessedness of it!  No little child six years old ever rested more entirely and confidingly in the love and kindness and shelter and direction of its mother than did Mrs. Carr in the love and kindness and shelter and direction of her daughter Mercy.  It had begun to be so, while Mercy was yet a little girl.  Before she was fifteen years old, she felt a responsibility for her mother’s happiness, a watchfulness over her mother’s health, and even a care of her mother’s clothes.  With each year, the sense of these responsibilities grew deeper; and after her marriage, as she was denied the blessing of children, all the deep maternal instincts of her strong nature flowed back and centred anew around this comparatively helpless, aged child whom she called mother, and treated with never-failing respect.

When Mrs. Carr first saw the house they were to live in, she exclaimed,-

“O Lor’, Mercy!  Is thet the house?” Then, stepping back a few steps, shoving her spectacles high on her nose, and with her head well thrown back, she took a survey of the building in silence.  Then she turned slowly around, and, facing Mercy, said in a droll, dry way, not uncommon with her,-

“’Bijah Jenkins’s barn!”

Mercy laughed outright.

“So it is, mother.  I hadn’t thought of it.  It looks just like that old barn of Deacon Jenkins’s.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Carr.  “That’s it, exzackly.  Well, I never thought o’ offerin’ to hire a barn to live in afore, but I s’pose ’t’ll do till we can look about.  Mebbe we can do better.”

“But we’ve taken it for a year, mother,” said Mercy, a little dismayed.

“Oh, hev we?  Well, well, I daresay it’s comfortable enough; so the sun shines in mornin’s, thet’s the most I care for.  You’ll make any kind o’ house pooty to look at inside, an’ I reckon we needn’t roost on the fences outside, a-lookin’ at it, any more’n we choose to.  It does look, for all the world though, like ’Bijah Jenkins’s old yaller barn; ‘n’ thet there jog’s jest the way he jined on his cow-shed.  I declare it’s too redicklus.”  And the old lady laughed till she had to wipe her spectacles.

“It could be made very pretty, I think,” said Mercy, “for all it is so hideous now.  I know just what I’d do to it, if it were mine.  I’d throw out a big bay window in that corner where the jog is, and another on the middle of the north side, and then run a piazza across the west side, and carry the platform round both the bay windows.  I saw a picture of a house in a book Mr. Allen had, which looked very much as this would look then.  Oh, but I’d like to do it!” Mercy’s imagination was so fired with the picture she had made to herself of the house thus altered and improved, that she could not easily relinquish it.

“But, Mercy, you don’t know the lay o’ the rooms, child.  You don’ ‘no’ where that ere jog comes.  Your bay window mightn’t come so’s’t would be of any use.  Yer wouldn’t build one jest to look at, would you?” said her mother.

“I’m not so sure I wouldn’t, if I had plenty of money,” replied Mercy, laughing.  “But I have no idea of building bay windows on other people’s houses.  I was only amusing myself by planning it.  I’d rather have that house, old and horrid as it is, than any house in the town.  I like the situation so much, and the woods are so beautiful.  Perhaps I’ll earn a lot of money some day, and buy the place, and make it just as we like it.”

“You earn money, child!” said Mrs. Carr, in a tone of unqualified wonder.  “How could you earn money, I’d like to know?”

“Oh, make bonnets or gowns, dear little mother, or teach school,” said Mercy, coloring.  “Mr. Allen said I was quite well enough fitted to teach our school at home, if I liked.”

“But, Mercy, child, you’d never go to do any such thing’s thet, would yer now?” said her mother, piteously.  “Don’t ye hev all ye want, Mercy?  Ain’t there money enough for our clothes?  I’m sure I don’t need much; an’ I could do with a good deal less, if there was any thing you wanted, dear.  Your father he ’d never rest in his grave, ef he thought his little Mercy was a havin’ to arn money for her livin’.  You didn’t mean it, child, did yer?  Say yer didn’t mean it, Mercy,” and tears stood in the poor old woman’s eyes.

It is strange what a tenacious pride there was in the hearts of our old sea-faring men of a half century ago.  They had the same feeling that kings and emperors might have in regard to their wives and daughters, that it was a disgrace for them to be obliged to earn money.  It would be an interesting thing to analyze this sentiment, to trace it to its roots:  it was so universal among successful sea-faring men that it must have had its origin in some trait distinctively peculiar to their profession.  All the other women in the town or the village might eke out the family incomes by whatever devices they pleased; but the captains’ wives were to be ladies.  They were to wear silk gowns brought from many a land; they were to have ornaments of quaint fashion, picked up here and there; they were to have money enough in the bank to live on in quiet comfort during the intervals when the husbands sailed away to make more.  So strong was this feeling that it crystallized into a traditionary custom of life, which even poverty finds it hard to overcome.  You shall find to-day, in any one of the seaport cities or towns of New England, widows and daughters of sea-captains, living, or rather seeming to live, upon the most beggarly incomes, but still keeping up a certain pathetic sham of appearance of being at ease.  If they are really face to face with probable starvation, they may go to some charitable institution where fine needlework is given out, and earn a few dollars in that way.  But they will fetch and carry their work by night, and no neighbor will ever by any chance surprise them with it in their hands.  Most beautifully is this surreptitious sewing done; there is no work in this country like it.  The tiny stitches bear the very aroma of sad and lonely leisure in them; a certain fine pride, too, as if the poverty-constrained lady would in no wise condescend to depart from her own standard in the matter of a single loop or stitch, no matter to what plebeian uses the garment might come after it should leave her hands.

Mercy’s deep blush when she replied to her mother’s astonished inquiry, how she could possibly earn any money, sprung from her consciousness of a secret,-a secret so harmless in itself, that she was ashamed of having any feeling of guilt in keeping it a secret; and yet, her fine and fastidious honesty so hated even the semblance of concealment, that the mere withholding of a fact, simply because she disliked to mention it, seemed to her akin to a denial of it.  If there is such a thing in a human being as organic honesty,-an honesty which makes a lie not difficult, but impossible, just as it is impossible for men to walk on ceilings like flies, or to breathe in water like fishes,-Mercy Philbrick had it.  The least approach to an equivocation was abhorrent to her:  not that she reasoned about it, and submitting it to her conscience found it wicked, and therefore hateful; but that she disliked it instinctively,-as instinctively as she disliked pain.  Her moral nerves shrank from it, just as nerves of the body shrink from suffering; and she recoiled from the suggestion of such a thing with the same involuntary quickness with which we put up the hand to ward off a falling blow, or drop the eyelid to protect an endangered eye.  Physicians tell us that there are in men and women such enormous differences in this matter of sensitiveness to physical pain that one person may die of a pain which would be comparatively slight to another; and this is a fact which has to be taken very carefully into account, in all dealing with disease in people of the greatest capacity for suffering.  May there not be equally great differences in souls, in the matter of sensitiveness to moral hurt?-differences for which the soul is not responsible, any more than the body is responsible for its skin’s having been made thin or thick.  Will-power has nothing whatever to do with determining the latter conditions.  Let us be careful how far we take it to task for failing to control the others.  Perhaps we shall learn, in some other stage of existence, that there is in this world a great deal of moral color blindness, congenital, incurable; and that God has much more pity than we suppose for poor things who have stumbled a good many times while they were groping in darkness.

People who see clearly themselves are almost always intolerant of those who do not.  We often see this ludicrously exemplified, even in the trivial matter of near-sightedness.  We are almost always a little vexed, when we point out a distant object to a friend, and hear him reply,-

“No, I do not see it at all.  I am near-sighted.”

“What! can’t you see that far?” is the frequent retort, and in the pity is a dash of impatience.

There is a great deal of intolerance in the world, which is closely akin to this; and not a whit more reasonable or righteous, though it makes great pretensions to being both.  Mercy Philbrick was full of such intolerance, on this one point of honesty.  She was intolerant not only to others, she was intolerant to herself.  She had seasons of fierce and hopeless debating with herself, on the most trivial matters, or what would seem so to nine hundred and ninety-nine persons out of a thousand.  During such seasons as these, her treatment of her friends and acquaintances had odd alternations of frank friendliness and reticent coolness.  A sudden misgiving whether she might not be appearing to like her friend more than she really did would seize her at most inopportune moments, and make her absent-minded and irresponsive.  She would leave sentences abruptly unfinished,-invitations, perhaps, or the acceptances of invitations, the mere words of which spring readily to one’s lips, and are thoughtlessly spoken.  But, in Mercy’s times of conflict with herself, even these were exaggerated in her view to monstrous deceits.  She had again and again held long conversations with Mr. Allen on this subject, but he failed to help her.  He was a good man, of average conscientiousness and average perception:  he literally could not see many of the points which Mercy’s keener analysis ferreted out, and sharpened into weapons for her own pain.  He thought her simply morbid.

“Now, child,” he would say,-for, although he was only a few years Mercy’s senior, he had taught her like a child for three years,-“now, child, leave off worrying yourself by these fancies.  There is not the least danger of your ever being any thing but truthful.  Nature and grace are both too strong in you.  There is no lie in saying to a person who has come to see you in your own house, ‘I am glad to see you,’ for you are glad; and, if not, you can make yourself glad, when you think how much pleasure you can give the person by talking with him.  You are glad, always, to give pleasure to any human being, are you not?”

“Yes,” Mercy would reply unhesitatingly.

“Very well.  To the person who comes to see you, you give pleasure:  therefore, you are glad to see him.”

“But, Mr. Allen,” would persist poor Mercy, “that is not what the person thinks I mean.  Very often some one comes to see me, who bores me so that I can hardly keep awake.  He would not be pleased if he knew that all my cordial welcome really meant was,-’I’m glad to see you, because I’m a benevolent person, and am willing to make my fellow-creatures happy at any sacrifice, even at the frightful one of entertaining such a bore as you are!’ He would never come near me again, if he knew I thought that; and yet, if I do think so, and make him think I do not, is not that the biggest sort of a lie?  Why, Mr. Allen, many a time when I have seen tiresome or disagreeable people coming to our house, I have run away and hid myself, so as not to be found; not in the least because I could not bear the being bored by them, but because I could not bear the thought of the lies I should speak, or at least act, if I saw them.”

“The interpretation a visitor chooses to put upon our kind cordiality of manner to him is his own affair, not ours, Mercy.  It is a Christian duty to be cordial and kindly of manner to every human being:  any thing less gives pain, repels people from us, and hinders our being able to do them good.  There is no more doubt of this than of any other first principle of Christian conduct; and I am very sorry that these morbid notions have taken such hold of you.  If you yield to them, you will make yourself soon disliked and feared, and give a great deal of needless pain to your neighbors.”

It was hard for Mr. Allen to be severe with Mercy, for he loved her as if she were his younger sister; but he honestly thought her to be in great danger of falling into a chronic morbidness on this subject, and he believed that stern words were most likely to convince her of her mistake.  It was a sort of battle, however,-this battle which Mercy was forced to fight,-in which no human being can help another, unless he has first been through the same battle himself.  All that Mr. Allen said seemed to Mercy specious and, to a certain extent, trivial:  it failed to influence her, simply because it did not so much as recognize the point where her difficulty lay.

“If Mr. Allen tries till he dies, he will never convinc me that it is not deceiving people to make them think you’re glad to see them when you’re not,” Mercy said to herself often, as, with flushed cheeks and tears in her eyes, she walked home after these conversations.  “He may make me think that it is right to deceive them rather than to make them unhappy.  It almost seems as if it must be; yet, if we once admitted that, where should we ever stop?  It seems to me that would be a very dangerous doctrine.  A lie’s a lie, let whoever will call it fine names, and pass it off as a Christian duty The Bible does not say, ’Thou shalt not lie, except when it is necessary to lie, to avoid hurting thy neighbor’s feelings,’ It says, ‘Thou shalt not lie.’  Oh, what a horrible word ‘lie’ is!  It stings like a short, sharp stroke with a lash.”  And Mercy would turn away from the thought with a shudder, and resolutely force hersef to think of something else.  Sometimes she would escape from the perplexity for weeks:  chance would so favor her, that no opportunity for what she felt to be deceit would occur; but, in these intervals of relief, her tortured conscience seemed only to renew its voices, and spring upon her all the more fiercely on the next occasion.  The effect, of all these indecisive conflicts upon Mercy’s character had not been good.  They had left her morally bruised, and therefore abnormally sensitive to the least touch.  She was in danger of becoming either a fanatic for truth, or indifferent to it.  Paradoxcal as it may seem, she was in almost as much danger of the one as of the other.  But always, when our hurts are fast healing without help, the help comes.  It is probable that there is to-day on the earth a cure, either in herb or stone or spring, for every ill which men’s bodies can know.  Ignorance and accident may hinder us long from them, but sooner or later the race shall come to possess them all.  So with souls.  There is the ready truth, the living voice, the warm hand, or the final experience, waiting for each soul’s need.  We do not die till we have found them.  There were yet to enter into Mercy Philbrick’s life a new light and a new force, by the help of which she would see clearly and stand firm.

The secret which she had now for nearly a year kept from her mother was a very harmless one.  To people of the world, it would appear so trivial a thing, that the conscience which could feel itself wounded by reticence on such a point would seem hardly worth a sneer.  Mr. Allen, who had been Mercy’s teacher for three years, had early seen in her a strong poetic impulse, and had fostered and stimulated it by every means in his power.  He believed that in the exercise of this talent she would find the best possible help for her loneliness and comfort for her sorrow.  He recognized clearly that, to so exceptional a nature as Mercy’s, a certain amount of isolation was inevitable, all through her life, however fortunate she might be in entering into new and wider relations.  The loneliness of intense individuality is the loneliest loneliness in the world,-a loneliness which crowds only aggravate, and which even the closest and happiest companionship can only in part cure.  The creative faculty is the most inalienable and uncontrollable of individualities.  It is at once its own reward and its own penalty:  until it has conquered the freedom of its own city, in which it must for ever dwell, more or less apart, it is only a prisoner in the cities of others.  All this Mr. Allen felt for Mercy, recognized in Mercy.  He felt and recognized it by the instinct of love, rather than by any intellectual perception.  Intellectually, he was, in spite of his superior culture, far Mercy’s inferior.  He had been brave enough and manly enough to recognize this, and also to recognize what it took still more manliness to recognize,-that she could never love a man of his temperament.  It would have been very easy for him to love Mercy.  He was not a man of a passionate nature; but he felt himself strangely stirred whenever he looked into her sensitive, orchid-like face.  He felt in every fibre of him that to have the whole love of such a woman would be bewildering joy; yet never for one moment did he allow himself to think of seeking it.  “I might make her think she loved me, perhaps,” he said to himself.  “She is so lonely and sad, and has seen so few men; but it would be base.  She needs a nature totally different from mine, a life unlike the life I shall lead.  I will never try to make her love me.  And he never did.  He taught her and trained her, and developed her, patiently, exactingly, and yet tenderly as if she had been his sister; but he never betrayed to her, even by a look or tone, that he could have loved her as his wife.  No doubt his influence was greater over her for this subtle, unacknowledged bond.  It gave to their intercourse a certain strange mixture of reticence and familiarity, which grew more and more perilous and significant month by month.  Probably a change must have come, had they lived thus closely together a year or two longer.  The change could have been in but one direction.  They loved each other too much to ever love less:  they might have loved more; and Mercy’s life had been more peaceful, her heart had known a truer content, if she had never felt any stronger emotion than that which Harley Allen’s love would have roused in her bosom.  But his resolution was inexorable.  His instinct was too keen, his will too strong:  he compelled all his home-seeking, wife-loving thoughts to turn away from Mercy; and, six months after her departure, he had loyally and lovingly promised to be the husband of another.  In Mercy’s future he felt an intense interest; he would never cease to watch over her, if she would let him; he would guide, mould, and direct her, until the time came-he knew it would come-when she had outgrown his help, and ascended to a plane where he could no longer guide her.  His greatest fear was lest, from her overflowing vitality and keen sensuous delight in all the surface activities and pleasures of life, the intellectual side of her nature should be kept in the background and not properly nourished.  He had compelled her to study, to think, to write.  Who would do this for her in the new home?  He knew enough of Stephen White’s nature to fear that he, while he might be an appreciative friend, would not be a stimulating one.  He was too dreamy and pleasure-loving himself to be a spur to others.  A vague wonder, almost like a presentiment, haunted his thoughts continually as to the nature of the relation which would exist between Stephen and Mercy.  One day he wrote a long letter to Stephen, telling him all about Mercy,-her history; her peculiarities, mental and moral; her great need of mental training; her wonderful natural gifts.  He closed his letter in these words:-

“There is the making of a glorious woman and, I think, a true poet in this girl; but whether she ever makes either will depend entirely upon the hands she falls into.  She has a capacity for involuntary adaptation of herself to any surroundings, and for an unconscious and indomitable loyalty to the every-day needs of every-day life, which rarely go with the poetic temperament.  She would contentedly make bread and do nothing else, till the day of her death, if that seemed to be the nearest and most demanded duty.  She would be heartily faithful and joyous every day, in intercourse with only common and uncultivated people, if fate sets her among them.  She seems to me sometimes to be more literally a child of God, in the true and complete sense of the word ‘child,’ than any one I ever knew.  She takes every thing which comes to her just as a happy and good little child takes every thing that is given to him, and is pleased with all; yet she is not at all a religious person.  I am often distressed by her lack of impulse to worship.  I think she has no strong sense of a personal God; yet her conscience is in many ways morbidly sensitive.  She is a most interesting and absorbing person,-one entirely unique in my experience.  Living with her, as you will, it will be impossible for you not to influence her strongly, one way or the other; and I want to enlist your help to carry on the work I have begun.  She owes it to herself and to the world not to let her mind be inactive.  I am very much mistaken if she has not within her the power to write poems, which shall take place among the work that lasts.”

Mr. Allen read this letter over several times, and then, with a gesture of impatience, tore the sheets down the middle, and threw them into the fire, exclaiming,-

“Pshaw! as if there were any use in sending a man a portrait of a woman he is to see every day.  If Stephen is the person to amount to any thing in her life, he will recognize her.  If he is not, all my descriptions of her will be thrown away.  It is best to let things take their own course.”

After some deliberation, he decided to take a step, which he would never have taken, had Mercy not been going away from his influence,-a step which he had again and again said to himself he would hot risk, lest the effect might be to hinder her intellectual growth.  He sent two of her poems to a friend of his, who was the editor of one of the leading magazines in the country.  The welcome they met exceeded even his anticipations.  By the very next mail, he received a note from his friend, enclosing a check, which to Harley Allen’s inexperience of such matters seemed disproportionately large.  “Your little Cape Cod girl is a wonder, indeed,” wrote the editor.  “If she can keep on writing such verse as this, she will make a name for herself.  Send us some more:  we’ll pay her well for it.”

Mr. Allen was perplexed.  He had not once thought of the verses being paid for.  He had thought that to see her poems in print might give Mercy a new incentive to work, might rouse in her an ambition, which would in part take the place of the stimulus which his teachings had given her.  He very much disliked to tell her what he had done, and to give to her the money she had unwittingly earned.  He feared that she would resent it; he feared that she would be too elated by it; he feared a dozen different things in as many minutes, as he sat turning the check over and over in his hands.  But his fears were all unfounded.  Mercy had too genuine an artistic nature to be elated, too much simplicity to be offended.  Her first emotion was one of incredulity; her second, of unaffected and humble wonder that any verses of hers should have been so well spoken of; and her next, of childlike glee at the possibility of her earning any money.  She had not a trace of the false pride which had crystallized in her mother’s nature into such a barrier against the idea of a paid industry.

“O Mr. Allen!” she exclaimed, “is it really possible?  Do you think the verses were really worth it?  Are you quite sure the editor did not send the money because the verses were written by a friend of yours?”

Harley Allen laughed.

“Editors are not at all likely, Mercy,” he said, “to pay any more for things than the things are worth.  I think you will some day laugh heartily, as you look back upon the misgivings with which you received the first money earned by your pen.  If you will only work faithfully and painstakingly, you can do work which will be much better paid than this.”

Mercy’s eyes flashed.

“Oh! oh!  Then I can have books and pictures, and take journeys,” she said in a tone of such ecstasy that Mr. Allen was surprised.

“Why, Mercy,” he replied, “I did not know you were such a discontented girl.  Have you always longed for all these things?”

“I’m not discontented, Mr. Allen,” answered Mercy, a little proudly.  “I never had a discontented moment in my life.  I’m not so silly.  I have never yet seen the day which did not seem to me brimful and running over with joys and delights; that is, except when I was for a little while bowed down by a grief nobody could bear up under,” she added, with a sudden drooping of every feature in her expressive face, as she recalled the one sharp grief of her life.  “I don’t see why a distinct longing for all sorts of beautiful things need be in the least inconsistent with absolute content.  In fact, I know it isn’t; for I have both.”

Mr. Allen was not enough of an idealist to understand this.  He looked puzzled, and Mercy went on,-

“Why, Mr. Allen, I should like to have our home perfectly beautiful, just like the most beautiful houses I have read about in books.  I should like to have the walls hung full of pictures, and the rooms filled full of books; and I should like to have great greenhouses full of all the rare and exquisite flowers of the whole world.  I’d like one house like the house you told me of, full of all the orchids, and another full of only palms and ferns.  I should like to wear always the costliest of silks, very plain and never of bright colors, but heavy and soft and shining; and laces that were like fleecy clouds when they are just scattering.  I should like to be perfectly beautiful, and to have perfectly beautiful people around me.  But all this doesn’t make me one bit less contented.  I care just as much for my few little, old books, and my two or three pictures, and our beds of sweet-williams and pinks.  They all give me such pleasure that I’m just glad I’m alive every minute.-What are you thinking of, Mr. Allen!” exclaimed Mercy, breaking off and coloring scarlet, as she became suddenly aware that her pastor was gazing at her with a scrutinizing look she had never seen on his face before.

“Of your future life, Mercy,-of your future life.  I am wondering what it will be, and if the dear Lord will carry you safe through all the temptations which the world must offer to one so sensitive as you are to all its beauties,” replied Mr. Allen, sadly.  Mercy was displeased.  She was always intolerant of this class of references to the Lord.  Her sense of honesty took alarm at them.  In a curt and half-petulant tone, she answered,-

“I suppose ministers have to say such things, Mr. Allen; but I wish you wouldn’t say them to me.  I do not think that the Lord made the beautiful things in this world for temptations; and I believe he expects us to keep ourselves out of mischief, and not throw the responsibility on to him!”

“Oh, Mercy, Mercy! don’t say such things!  They sound irreverent:  they shock me!” exclaimed Mr. Allen, deeply pained by Mercy’s tone and words.

“I am very sorry to shock you, Mr. Allen,” replied Mercy, in a gentler tone.  “Pray forgive me.  I do not think, however, there is half as much real irreverence in saying that the Lord expects us to look out for ourselves and keep out of mischief as there is in teaching that he made a whole world full of people so weak and miserable that they couldn’t look after themselves, and had to be lifted along all the time.”

Mr. Allen shook his head, and sighed.  When Mercy was in this frame of mind, it was of no use to argue with her.  He returned to the subject of her poetry.

“If you will keep on reading and studying, Mercy, and will compel yourself to write and rewrite carefully, there is no reason why you should not have a genuine success as a writer, and put yourself in a position to earn money enough to buy a great many comforts and pleasures for yourself, and your mother also,” he said.

At the mention of her mother, Mercy started, and exclaimed irrelevantly,-

“Dear me!  I never once thought of mother.”

Mr. Allen looked, as well he might, mystified.  “Never once thought of her!  What do you mean, Mercy?”

“Why, I mean I never once thought about telling her about the money.  She wouldn’t like it.”

“Why not?  I should think she would not only like the money, but be very proud of your being able to earn it in such a way.”

“Perhaps that might make a difference,” said Mercy, reflectively:  “it would seem quite different to her from taking in sewing, I suppose.”

“Well, I should think so,” laughed Mr. Allen.  “Very different, indeed.”

“But it’s earning money, working for money, all the same,” continued Mercy; “and you haven’t the least idea how mother feels about that.  Father must have been full of queer notions.  She got it all from him.  But I can’t see that there is any difference between a woman’s taking money for what she can do, and a man’s taking money for what he can do.  I can do sewing, and you can preach; and of the two, if people must go without one or the other, they could do without sermons better than without clothes,-eh, Mr. Allen?” and Mercy laughed mischievously.  “But once when I told mother I believed I would turn dressmaker for the town, I knew I could earn ever so much money, besides doing a philanthropy in getting some decent gowns into the community, she was so horrified and unhappy at the bare idea that I never have forgotten it.  It is just so with ever so many women here.  They would rather half-starve than do any thing to earn money.  For my part, I think it is nonsense.”

“Certainly, Mercy,-certainly it is,” replied Mr. Allen, anxious lest this new barrier should come between Mercy and her work.  “It is only a prejudice.  And you need never let your mother know any thing about it.  She is so old and feeble it would not be worth while to worry her.”

Mercy’s eyes grew dark and stern as she fixed them on Mr. Allen.  “I wonder I believe any thing you say, Mr. Allen.  How many things do you keep back from me, or state differently from what they are, to save my feelings? or to adapt the truth to my feebleness, which is not like the feebleness of old age, to be sure, but is feebleness in comparison with your knowledge and strength?  I hate, hate, hate, your theories about deceiving people.  I shall certainly tell my mother, if I keep on writing, and am paid for it,” she said impetuously.

“Very well.  Of course, if you think it wrong to leave her in ignorance about it, you must tell her.  I myself see no reason for your mentioning the fact, unless you choose to.  You are a mature and independent woman:  she is old and childish.  The relation between you is really reversed.  You are the mother, and she the child.  Suppose she had become a writer when you were a little girl:  would it have been her duty to tell you of it?” replied Mr. Allen.

“I don’t care!  I shall tell her!  I never have kept the least thing from her yet, and I don’t believe I ever will,” said Mercy.  “You’ll never make me think it’s right, Mr. Allen.  What a good Jesuit you’d have made, wouldn’t you?”

Mr. Allen colored.  “Oh, child, how unjust you are!” he exclaimed.  “But it must be all my stupid way of putting things.  One of these days, you’ll see it all differently.”

And she did.  Firm as were her resolutions to tell her mother every thing, she could not find courage to tell her about the verses and the price paid for them.  Again and again she had approached the subject, and had been frightened back,-sometimes by her own unconquerable dislike to speaking of her poetry; sometimes, as in the instance above, by an outbreak on her mother’s part of indignation at the bare suggestion of her earning money.  After that conversation, Mercy resolved within herself to postpone the day of the revelation, until there should be more to tell and more to show.

“If ever I have a hundred dollars, I’ll tell her then,” she thought.  “So much money as that would make it seem better to her.  And I will have a good many verses by that time to read to her.”  And so the secret grew bigger and heavier, and yet Mercy grew more used to carrying it, until she herself began to doubt whether Mr. Allen were not right, after all; and if it would not be a pity to trouble the feeble old heart with a needless perplexity and pain.